Toad In The Hole

Toad In The Hole was a favourite dish of my childhood, and also one of the first dishes I made when I began cookery lessons at school, aged 11. Toad in the Hole is a traditional lunch or supper dish combining sausages and a standard Yorkshire Pudding batter.

The earliest mention attributed by the Oxford English Dictionary is 1787¹, but as the digitisation of old books increases, earlier mentions will no-doubt come to light. I’ve managed to find a few.

From 1762 we have a mention in the publication The Beauties of all the magazines selected, a kind of Readers Digest of its day, in an article describing an engraving by William Hogarth. The Hogarth print, published in 1761,  is entitled The Five Orders of Perriwigs, and the magazine’s description of the first image (below) is as follows:

The first Capital discovers only a forehead, nose, lips, and one eye, the rest of the face is eclipsed by the Wig’s protuberance, and appears like a small piece of beef baked in a large pudding, vulgarly called, a Toad in a hole.

The other mention is from several years earlier, 1749 to be exact, and is in the form of a footnote to some verse in a play².

In the eighteenth century, ‘Cant’ was secret language or jargon used by certain groups of people, such as gypseys, thieves and professional beggars, for the purposes of secrecy. In this context, it more likely to have been (slightly derogatory) slang. Together with the wig reference, the overall image is of a rather mean piece of meat being padded out to the point of almost being swallowed by a large, voluminous  and above all, filling pudding.³

Nearly three hundred years later it is still a very budget friendly dish, as it can make a meal for 4 out of a pack of sausages and a few cupboard staples.

There are a couple of tips when making a Toad which can add both flavour and interest. I was taught to put the sausages in your baking/serving dish and put the dish into the heated oven for 10-15 minutes before adding in the batter. This allows the sausages to start cooking and (hopefully) develop a little bit of colour. Most importantly, however, it will allow the fat in the sausages to start to render, thereby greasing your dish, and thus you don’t need to add any additional fat.

The second is flavouring. Many people like to serve Toad In The Hole with gravy – onion gravy is popular. But not all people are gravy enthusiasts, and so another approach is to flavour the batter. Obviously salt and pepper are a given, but the addition of some fresh herbs can add some big punch flavours, especially if the sausages are also herbed. I think you can’t go wrong with the old “Scarborough Fair” mix of parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. As far as quantity, go by your own personal taste: a nice rounded teaspoon of fresh chopped, or half that if using dried is a reasonable amount to start with. Onion in some form is also another option. Pick your preferred strength from what I like to think of as an allium continuum: chives, spring onions, white/French, pink, shallots, red, brown, – and whether to add them raw, softened, browned or caramelised.

This version is time as well as budget friendly, as it cooks in the slow cooker. With only about five minutes work, you can then forget about it and be tucking into a crispy Toad in just two hours.

There are couple of important tips to using a slow cooker for your Toad In The Hole

  1. To avoid a soggy Toad, you need to prevent the condensation that will form on your slow cooker lid from dripping back onto your Toad, so you need to trap – for want of a better word – some kitchen paper or a clean teatowel under the lid to absorb the moisture.
  2. No peeking! Lifting the lid to check on progress will cause the heat to escape, which will adversely affect the cooking of your batter. I peeked several times when first trying this method, and the resulting Toad was decidedly ‘firm’. By not peeking throughout the whole two hours, the Toad had a much lighter crust. Admittedly not quite as puffed as an oven-baked Toad, but perfectly acceptable for such a hands-off approach. As a bonus, the bottom and sides get deliciously crisp and brown.
  3. (Optional) Pre-cooking the sausages. You don’t have to do this, you can just plonk everything in at once, but I find a little colour on the sausages does wonders for the visual appeal of the finished dish. The cooking doesn’t have to be that long either. In a pan on a fairly high heat, they will take a little colour in about a minute (you only need to have colour on one side). Then you can arrange them coloured-side up in your slow cooker before pouring over the batter.

Toad In The Hole – Slow-cooker method

Caveat: I have a large slow cooker, for easy batch cooking, and I appreciate not everyone will have a slow cooker of a similar size. Smaller cookers will require some adjustment in either the quantity made and/or the length of cooking time. Do let me know how you go if you are making this in a small slow cooker.

Batter (based on a 17thC recipe)
2 large eggs
120g plain flour
220ml milk
salt and pepper
herbs (optional)
onions (optional)

12 chipolata sausages.

kitchen paper or clean teatowel

  • Turn on your slow cooker to High to heat up.
  • Colour one side of your sausages in a pan. Set aside.
  • Put the eggs, flour and milk into an appropriate container and whisk into a batter (I use a stick blender).
  • Season with salt and pepper.
  • Stir in your herbs and/or onion if using.
  • Brush the inside of your slow cooker with some of the sausage fat. Remember to include the sides for when the batter puffs up.
  • Arrange your sausages coloured side upwards. I like to use chipolata sausages because they cover the bottom of the slow cooker more densely than regular-sized sausages.
  • Gently pour the batter between the sausages, trying to keep them from rolling over, although it’s easy to turn them back if this does happen.
  • Lay a double-thickness of kitchen roll over the top of your slow cooker and clamp it in place with the lid.
  • Set a timer for 2 hours and NO PEEKING!
  • When the time is up, remove the Toad from the slow cooker to a dish or board, and cut into serving pieces.
  • Serve with salad and/or vegetables and/or gravy.
  • DejaFood: If you have any leftover Toad, it reheats well. Wrap in foil and put into a 200°C, 180°C Fan oven for 10 minutes.

¹ “Pudding-Pye-Doll, the dish called toad-in-a-hole, meat boiled in a crust. Norf.” Francis Grose · A provincial glossary, with a collection of local proverbs, and popular superstitions · 1st edition, 1787.

² A general history of the stage; (more particularly the Irish theatre) from its origin in Greece down to the present time. (1749), by William Rufus Chetwood, printed by E. Rider, for the author, and sold by Messrs. Ewing, Wilson, Esdall, and James, in Dublin, and Mr. Sullivan in Cork, Dublin, p183.

³  Sidebar: Hannah Glasse’s 1747 book The Art of Cookery contains a recipe for Pigeons In A Hole³, which is definitely a related dish:

The art of cookery, made plain and easy; which far exceeds any thing of the kind ever yet published. (1747), Hannah Glasse, printed for the author; and sold at Mrs. Ashburn’s, a China-Shop, London, p46.